While this form of arthritis can interfere with daily tasks and activities, it can have other bad effects: A study published in 2019 in the journal Osteoarthritis and Cartilage found that knee and hip OA was associated with an increased risk of cardiac death. disease.
“OA can lead to increased sedentary behavior and, as a result, increase a person’s risk for other chronic problems such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease due to reduced activity,” says Eric K. Holder, assistant professor of clinical orthopedics and rehabilitation at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn. OA can also increase inflammation in the body, which itself is linked to heart disease. And a study published in 2020 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that the condition can lead to social isolation, which can also be harmful to health.
Osteoarthritis affects 32.5 million adults in the US
The good news: While many medications used to relieve pain aren’t recommended for regular use by older adults, a number of lifestyle and other non-drug treatments can help ease symptoms — and prevent OA from progressing, says Heidi Prather, a physiatrist. at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Here’s what the experts advise.
Reducing stress and getting a better night’s sleep may not seem to help with OA. However, some evidence suggests that they can. For example, a study published in the journal PLOS One in 2020 found that people age 50 and older who slept six or fewer hours a night were 20 percent more likely to be diagnosed with OA than those who got between seven and eight hours. They were also about 30 percent more likely to experience significant joint pain.
“Sleep is critical to pain perception,” says Prather. Not enough downtime can lower levels of neurotransmitters — the brain’s feel-good chemicals that can help ease pain, he explains. Stress can impair sleep and thus change the way we perceive pain.
Meditation for people who think they can’t meditate
To solve both problems, you can try a mindfulness technique like meditation. For example, one small study published in the journal Alternative and Complementary Therapies found that women with knee OA who meditated for 15 to 20 minutes twice a day for eight weeks experienced significant improvements in pain and quality of life and improved knee function.
Addressing mental health issues such as depression and anxiety is also important. A study published in 2019 in the journal Pain found that people who reported symptoms of anxiety were 70 percent more likely to report knee pain in the following year. “There may be a connection between these emotions and inflammation,” says Prather. Talk to your doctor about therapies that may help.
If you are overweight, losing just 5 to 10 pounds can help with pain and mobility. And a study published in 2021 in the International Journal of Obesity found that overweight and obese people who lost more than 7.5 percent of their body weight were less likely to require total knee replacement compared to those who they did not lose weight or gain weight. .
Losing weight can also reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, or help you get it under control if you already have the condition. “We know that uncontrolled diabetes triggers inflammation that worsens osteoarthritis,” says Eliana Cardozo, a sports medicine physician at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
Losing weight can help protect your knees from arthritis
Benefits of a plant-based diet
A 2018 study published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that people who followed a plant-based eating style for eight weeks experienced significant improvements in musculoskeletal pain — even though they didn’t lose weight. “A whole, nutrient-dense diet that’s low in processed foods and sugar is key because it helps reduce inflammation that contributes to pain,” says Holder.
One good choice: a Mediterranean-style diet that’s rich in produce, whole grains, seafood, beans and nuts. A diet high in sugar can negatively affect the gut microbiome, according to a study published in the journal PLOS One in 2021. And “your gut makes most of your body’s serotonin, a brain chemical that elevates mood and makes it easier for you to tolerate pain,” says Prather.
The best foods to nourish your gut microbiome
Exercise in the right ways
“In my opinion, exercise — including physical therapy — is the most important nonsurgical treatment for osteoarthritis,” says orthopedic surgeon Timothy Gibson, medical director of MemorialCare Joint Replacement Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. Not only does it strengthen the surrounding muscles, reducing pressure on the joints, but it improves overall function and provides a mental benefit that can make pain management easier.”
When it comes to exercise, the most helpful for OA is a combination of aerobics, strength training, and flexibility exercises, says Elaine Husni, M.D., vice chair of rheumatic and immunology at the Cleveland Clinic. But it is important to adapt the training to your condition. “If the patient has a sedentary lifestyle, I’ll start with water-based therapy like pool aerobics,” he says. “And once they’re tolerating that, they move on to low-impact ground therapy, like walking or cycling.”
Husni also recommends tai chi. A 2021 study published in the journal BMC Geriatrics found that older adults with knee OA who engaged in this gentle activity twice a week for 12 weeks performed much better on activities such as single-leg stands than those who did not they didn’t. Another good option is chair yoga. “It’s especially good if you’ve been sedentary because it takes away the fear of falling and doesn’t require as much core balance,” says Husni.
If exercise is too painful for you, ask your doctor if a course of physical therapy might be warranted. A physical therapist can teach you how to strengthen the muscles around your joints with little or no pain, along with techniques to make daily activities like walking up and down stairs easier.
For OA flare-ups, you can apply an over-the-counter topical product to the painful joint. These include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Voltaren and capsaicin preparations such as Zostrix.
For more relief, you may be able to use over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen (Motrin IB, generic) for a short time if you have well-controlled blood pressure and healthy liver and kidneys, Husni says. Ask your doctor. Otherwise, acetaminophen (Tylenol, generic) may be best.
There are also injectables: steroids, hyaluronic acid, and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) — an experimental treatment that uses the patient’s own platelets.
Hyaluronic acid, a similar substance in joints, may work for some people, but American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons guidelines do not recommend it for routine use in OA. PRP has shown promise for tendon, muscle and ligament injuries in younger people, but not for moderate-to-severe OA, Husni says.
“For some people, a particular injection may help with pain for a while,” says Cardozo, who also recommends an individualized approach based on factors such as the degree of arthritis.
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